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Left hand technique on a 6-string

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by HeathenHeart, Sep 24, 2018.


  1. HeathenHeart

    HeathenHeart

    Apr 29, 2014
    So, I'm trying to correct my technique and keeping my wrists straight to avoid pain. So far, I've managed to correct my right hand technique, but my left hand is annoying me.

    I've watched the "Safe Left Hand technique" video by Adam Neely, and I've been trying to follow the whole "thumb pointing at the headstock" position. It works flawlessly on the upper 4 strings, but it seems impossible to keep that position on the E and especially the B strings, thanks to the larger neck. It obviously gets worse on the lower frets. It seems like my wrist *has to* bend a little so I can nail any type of riff or scale.

    Am I doing something wrong, or is this innate to 5/6 string basses and larger necks? Because I'm checking some videos by some famous metal bassists and they all seem to bend their wrists like 45° or so when they're playing on that region, like on the thumbnails below.



     
  2. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    Many of those bass players have their fretting arm elbow rather close to their waist.

    Depending on what you are doing at the time,your wrist will need to bend.
    The width of the neck mandates that you bend the wrist so that the fingers can reach a bit more.
    It changes the hand angle and allows the fingers to open while fretting.

    For example,just try to fret everything you play with the palm of your fretting hand against the edge of the neck. Snapshot_20180427_5.JPG
    You may be able to fret the lower strings,but the D,G and C will be impossible.

    You will need to move your hand away to reach the D,G and C(below)
    Snapshot_20180427_2.JPG

    If you raise your elbow,it will tend to straighten the wrist.
    Snapshot_20180705_1.JPG

    One way to keep your wrists straight most the time is to play your bass like a Chapman Stick.
    That is,at a high angle with your elbows out.
    But even Stick players don't do that all the time.
    Emmett. splendore.
    So try to keep it straight when you can.
    Don't worry about it when you can't
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2018
  3. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Full disclosure: Having started playing bass 44 years ago, and having graduated from college with my undergrad music degree 36 years ago -- iow, all my education vis a vis bass "technique" came long before youtube was even an idea much less a thing -- I have never watched an online video purporting to teach how to play bass correctly. So keep that in mind when I ask

    Why in god's name would anyone ever advocate that you keep your thumb pointing at the headstock?!?!?

    Because, yeah, among other things, how would you be able to fret notes on the lower strings if your thumb was pointing headstock-ward? By definition that insures that your fretting hand has to rotate towards the headstock, which limits the available extension for those fingers.

    Everything I was ever taught about proper playing technique reinforced the idea that the thumb on your fretting hand should point perpendicular to the strings. And it should be more-or-less centered on the back of the neck.

    And if you watch players like John Patitucci or Jeff Berlin or Nathan East (just to name a few off the top of my head) you'll notice that's how they play.
    [edit: admittedly, none of those guys are "metal" players...but they are renowned for not being limited by their technique.]
     
    gebass6 likes this.
  4. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Hi Bob Ross, there are basically two competing theories of "proper" left-hand technique. Both of these styles are well-established, each with plenty of "traction" in the bass playing community.
    1. The fingers are perpendicular to the strings, spread apart one finger per fret. The fingers are arched, and the fingertips are used to press down the strings. The thumb is perpendicular to the strings, in the center of the neck, opposite the 2nd (middle) finger. The fingers and thumb form a curved "C" shape, like an arcade claw machine. This style comes from classical guitar technique, and is popular in instructional books and with "chops" players (especially those who learned to play in the 1900s).
    2. The fingers are relaxed and closer together. The fingers have less of an arch, and the "pads" are used to press down the strings. The thumb is free to go where it wants, maybe on the back of the neck, maybe pointing toward the headstock, or maybe even coming over the top of the neck. The palm is wide and flat. The fingers and thumb are on the same plane, like you were reaching out to shake someone's hand, or burp a baby. This style is popular on stage and in YouTube videos, and is widely used by rock/pop/funk/blues players in the 2000s.
    I personally have studied both techniques. I feel it is important to learn from multiple teachers, and then decide which combination of techniques work best for the individual.

    I will say that, in my opinion/experience, the two most dangerous techniques, in terms of fatigue and injury risk, are: 1) squeeze too hard so that any part of your hand turns pale-white from strain and lack of circulation; or 2) hold tension at the base of your thumb, so that your "life line" is deeply creased and your palm looks like "butt cheeks."
     
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  5. HeathenHeart

    HeathenHeart

    Apr 29, 2014
    Thanks for the pics, they've actually helped a lot. I'll try the elbow position, I tend to play with my elbow close to my waist and I think it'll do the trick.

    Exactly the problem which I've faced; i simply can't reach adjacent frets on the lower strings even if I stretch my fingers to the maximum.

    This is exactly how I play, or try to play. It seems impossible to avoid a little bend on the wrist for the lower strings though, which is what motivated this post. While I do have to improve on my strength (I do play a little hard), I was worried that bending the wrist like on those videos might have some long term implications.
     
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    So try the other way. ;) I've noticed I have an easier time reaching the B string when I do not use the "classical guitar arcade claw machine" technique. With my fingers flat and relaxed, I seem to have a longer reach.
     
  7. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    I would have to say,as little as I've analysed myself, that I'm a little of both.Not all of one or the other.
    I don't know.
    I do what I need to do to get to where I need to be.
     
  8. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Can you elaborate on this, or provide a picture? I'm having a hard time visualizing how one could do anything with their fretting hand if the fingers and thumb were on the same plane.
     
  9. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Check out the YouTube video "Developing Safe Left Hand Technique for Bass Guitar" by Adam Neely. He explains it much better than I can. :)

    Have you ever played golf? Lots of golfers grip the club so their thumbs are parallel (not perpendicular) to the shaft of the club.
     
  10. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    I really should wait until I can see this Adam Neely video you mention before I go too far and mischaracterize what's being suggested, but fwiw if there's anything remotely like gripping a golf club with thumbs parallel to the shaft in the way that someone holds the neck of their bass, that seems like it would be an impediment to execution. Off to youtube land now...
     
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  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Here's photographic evidence of the "top 5 bassists of all time" (according to a Rolling Stone reader poll) using the "golf grip" or "hitchhiker thumb" technique. I'm not claiming the best players use this technique exclusively, but it is certainly a tool most of them have in their toolbox.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Sep 24, 2018
  12. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Okay, I watched the Adam Neely video and checked out those pics ^^^above, so I have a better idea of what's being described. Between the golf club analogy and the "thumb pointing at the headstock" comment I was envisioning the thumb completely parallel to the strings, which seemed mind-bogglingly awkward and inefficient! I see now that the thumb is only pointing somewhat towards the headstock; it's almost splitting the difference between being parallel and perpendicular to the strings.

    But I still contend that the problem with this position is
    ...especially regarding access to the lower strings, which is what the OP's concern/observation was.

    I don't disagree that it's probably more comfortable.
     
    gebass6 likes this.
  13. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Everyone's body is slightly different, and I do not advocate a "one size fits all" approach to technique.

    Personally, for me, it is easier to keep my fingers straight if my thumb is pointing toward the headstock. If I curl my thumb into my palm so it is opposite my 2nd finger (classical guitar technique or "C shape") then I find this contracts my tendons and makes my fingers naturally curve. Straight fingers have longer reach than curved fingers, so I have an easier time playing on the B and E strings if I use the "golf grip." YMMV.

    My mind is boggled that you are mind-boggled by such a common and useful technique. ;)
     
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  14. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Oh, undoubtedly. That's why I find this thread fascinating! For example:

    See, I find that amazing. I don't doubt you, I simply cannot fathom the body mechanics that would lead to that result.
    I understand the "Straight fingers have longer reach than curved fingers" part, but no matter how I try to twist, turn, straighten, splay, relax, or otherwise re-position my fretting hand, any time I rotate my hand towards the lower frets such that my thumb now points towards the headstock, I'm shortening the available reach of my fingers due to simple geometry.


    "Common", sure. Other than simply being able to execute passages some people (presumably) otherwise couldn't, would you say it's actually "useful" for something that the classical guitar/C-shape technique isn't?
     
  15. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I think you're misunderstanding the technique. The hand doesn't "rotate". The hand stays in the same position, and the thumb moves so it is outside your 1st finger (rather than opposite your 2nd finger). Imagine you are spreading open a catcher's mitt, about to catch a baseball.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2018
  16. Garret Graves

    Garret Graves website- ggravesmusic.com Gold Supporting Member

    May 20, 2010
    Arcadia, Ca
    Carol Kaye taught thumb toward headstock too. Its hard to describe, you have to see it, but the hand is relaxed, there is no forcing anything. In the higher positions it does not strictly point toward the headstock- relax your hand and let the thumb point where it wants to- it is more or less toward the headstock. It all starts with simply lifting your left hand, turn palm up, open hand, and take a look at whats there- the thumb is pointing to where the headstock is, its the natural open hand default position we are talking about.
     
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  17. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Speaking as someone who battled (and mostly defeated) nerve damage in my wrist, these "famous metal bassists" are going to be "famously not playing anymore" once they hit 40 years old.

    Do everything in your power NOT to bend your wrist 45 degrees like those guys. Nerve pain sucks. You can't hold a coffee mug, much less play electric bass.
     
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  18. Wasnex

    Wasnex

    Dec 25, 2011
    In the course of a life time of study, the bold face print above is spot on. Ultimately great players all develop unique little variances in there approach that are tailored to their style and physiology. What works for one player, doesn't necessarily work for another.

    I kinda shift between 1 and 2 depending upon the requirements of the music. Most of the time my fingers are arched, but it is not always necessary, possible, or even practical to maintain a full arch and/or use the finger tips. For example, some note patterns can only be played at tempo if you flatten your fingers to essentially bar across two strings.

    The one thing I see that I find tasteful is when the fingers flail wildly about instead of staying relatively close to the finger board. IMHO, this is just plain sloppy/lazy, but there are players with incredibly sloppy technique who can play circles around me. If they are so talented that they don't require good technique, maybe we should just let it go.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2018
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  19. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music.

    May 3, 2009
    N.E Illinois
    I notice all of those players are playing something linear.
    Like a scale.
    Using those pictures implies that everything they play has the same hand/thumb position.

    They are not making a low to high interval move like the pic below.(I.E.Low Eb to Gb on the C string)
    Alain.
    For that the thumb must go to the back of the neck.
    See how Alain alternates from having his wrist straight to bent to accomplish that tritone double stop.

    Then see at 5:18 when he solos,his wrist is straight.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2018
  20. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Yes -- it is "useful" for keeping your wrist straight and your hand relaxed, thereby reducing the likelihood of long-term injury. That's why Neely titled his video "Developing Safe Right Hand Technique for Bass Guitar."
     

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